Journal Of The Life And Culture Of San Antonio

French Flavoring Ii: Two French Heroes

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In the late 1700s, it was a Frenchman who, assisted by Indians, found the best route between San Antonio and Santa Fe. He was commissioned in 1786 to do this by Domingo Cabello, the Spanish governor of Texas, who lived in San Antonio. Pedro (Pierre) Vial was well-known to the tribes of Texas all the way from Louisiana to the village of the Taovayas near today’s Waco, Texas.

This was a region known also by another Frenchman with ties to San Antonio--the amazing Paris-born Athanase de Mezieres, French military officer, trader with the Indians, planter, and lieutenant-commander of the French post of Natchitoches, who was appointed by the Spanish Crown to be the governor of Texas in 1779. He arrived in San Antonio, but died before he could serve, and his remains lie within San Fernando Cathedral.

Pierre Vial, accompanied by a San Antonian named Cristobal de los Santos, set out for Santa Fe on October 4, 1786. Visiting and consulting with friendly Indians along the way, they went almost directly north, past the Brazos River Valley near today’s Waco, and on to the Red River, then generally west to Santa Fe. Others were to follow this route, making several changes.

A few years later, in 1789, Vial, along with Francisco Xavier Fragoso and some soldiers, accomplished a remarkable exploration without the loss of a single man. He traveled 361 leagues from Santa Fe to Natchitoches, 51 more to Nacogdoches, 154 to San Antonio, and 348 back to Santa Fe-- a total of 914 leagues, or approximately 2,295 miles. Remarking about this extraordinary achievement, Texas historian Carlos E. Castaneda wrote:

He had visited many Indian pueblos in the vast area explored; he had made an accurate map of the route to Natchitoches; he had found everywhere an abundance of wild game, fruits, and nuts; and he had followed a route that was probably the shortest and most practical in connecting all these points. The route was, in fact, followed subsequently.

--Frank Jennings, 1992

Herbert E. Bolton, Athanese De Mezieres and the Louisiana-Texas Frontier, 1768-1780, pp. 82-84.

Herbert E. Bolton Texas in Mid-18th Century, pg 128-129.

Carlos E. Castaneda, The Texas Geographic Magazine, Vol. V. No.1, Spring, 1941)